Just taking another quick detour to address an issue that’s been on my mind for some time, and has recently been heightened by the release of A Place With No Name.
When the video premiered, I watched with much excitement and anticipation, as did thousands of MJ fans across the globe. My initial impression was that it was lovely; certainly quite beautifully filmed and the integration of the In The Closet footage is cleverly edited into the storyline of the couple. It is definitely several notches above the Love Never Felt So Good video in quality and ambition, as well as a loving homage to one of Michael’s sexiest yet most underrated videos. However, I was so caught up in paying attention to the visuals that I failed to notice something glaringly obvious about the lyrics: An entire portion of the bridge is missing!
The lines in question are the ones that follow right after “This place is filled with love and happiness/Why in the world would I wanna leave.” In the complete version as it is sung in the demo and on both track versions of Xscape, the verse goes on to state:
So then I went in my pocket
Took my wallet on out
With my pictures of my family and girl
This is the place you choose to be with me
When you thought you could be
In another world
Recently, a single edit surfaced that contained the same omission. I don’t know if it was the “official” single edit, but now there is a “single edit” version that has the full track intact and the “edited” one seems to have disappeared.
It is still a bit disturbing, however, that such a glaring omission has been made to a video that is now going to be seen by millions.
Why this matters is because it is an omission that ever so subtley changes the entire meaning of the song. While it’s not unsual for such edits to sometimes be made in the interest of time, that excuse can’t really be applied here. Radio and single edits will occasionally lop off pieces of an instrumental section, or fade out the final few seconds of a track, to shave off a few minutes of time, but rarely are entire lines and verses cut from the song. I can think of a few exceptions where this was done, going back to some songs I remember from my youth where, upon finally hearing the full album version of a song, I would go, “Whoa, there was a whole other verse in there I never heard before!” But in all cases, those were either exceedingly long tracks or cases where some verse had been censored due to controversial lyrics. These days, for example, the lines from Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing that refer to “the little f****t” are often edited out when it is played on classic radio stations.
Neither justification seems to really apply here. The length of A Place With No Name, even with the full bridge intact, is only about 4:36, well within the average length of most singles released today. The omitted line adds, at best, an additional thirty seconds or so to the song, and I find it hard to justify that this additional thirty seconds or so would be a “make or break” as far as length.
Nor is there any other obviously justifiable reason for omitting the lyric, except that for whatever reason, it seems someone wanted to “tweak” the song’s dark twist.
The omitted line is crucual to the overall meaning of the song because, just as with many of Michael’s songs about giving in to the temptations of lust, it becomes a morality tale about the consequences of one’s actions. The narrator is obviously enjoying being taken to places he’s never been, but the photos in the wallet are a jarring reminder of his reality. It is not clear in the end what his ultimate decision is, or where his loyalties will lie, but the fact that he must ponder the wages of that decision is ultimately the crux of the entire song. Just as with Billie Jean, Dirty Diana, Dangerous, Blood on the Dancefloor and so many others, Michael is taking us deep into the male psyche and taking some hard hits at what transpires when light and darkness collide.
By eliminating this line, it takes away the “moral consequence” element of the song and reduces it to merely a kind of sexy romp in the hay. The emphasis here is on the light and the joy of that utopia, but that is only part of the picture as that utopic vision eventually becomes tainted for the narrator.
My guess is that they wanted to keep the message here upbeat and positive. Maybe it became problematic trying to figure out how to work that element of the song into the video’s concept. But the bottom line is: They should have found a way. To do any less is a disservice to the artist and the artist’s intent. In The Closet-the video that served as the inspiration here-was likewise a video that juxtaposed a very upbeat and erotic visual storyline, while maintaining the dark edge of the lyrics (it is a tug-of-war battle between the power of the seductress and the male who says he will only give in if she agrees to keep their love a secret).
But I have noticed this seems to be an ongoing trend with some of Michael’s posthumously released work. The emphasis is on the positive, and a lot of the darker aspects are either being censored out or presented in a misleading way. In the case of A Place With No Name, it seems they wanted to keep it upbeat, without introducing the darker element. But really, why? Billie Jean wasn’t exactly a cheery video, either, but it made history.
And another recent example: The bridge to the title track, Xscape, is clearly referencing either death or the desire to die in order to “get away.”
What Michael clearly states in the bridge is:
When I go (or when I’m gone)
This problem world won’t bother me
(Some lyric sites quote the line as “When I go” but “When I’m gone” seems more logical, as it is a true rhyme with “alone,” the last word of the verse that the backup chorus sings).
Either way, the intended meaning of the passage is quite clear. In fact, it was made so very clear that when the track first leaked back in 2003, fans were concerned because they thought Michael might be contemplating suicide.
The line does appear intact on the track, but here is something interesting to note: In the album liner notes, the lyric to this bridge is printed thus:
Xscape, where did I go
This problem world won’t bother me
Is that a printing error, or a genuine attempt to mislead the lyrics?
The bridge as Michael sings it is a clear reference to the idea of death as the ultimate escape. But the misprint in the liner notes (whether intentional or not!) makes it sound like he’s just referring to slipping away on a vacation! (Or worse yet, feeding into the death hoax theory).
Clearly, Michael isn’t asking “Where did I go?” He’s saying “When I’m gone” as in “When I’m dead.”
By watering this down, whether purposely or unintentionally, it alters the meaning of the song to a simple tale of needing to get away from all the pressures. Well, the song isabout that, but it is very misleading if someone is purposely trying to paint it as if he’s not hinting that death might be the only way this will ultimately be possible for him.
I have to wonder if someone didn’t simply make the decision that the line was too dark, or might incite too much controversy, and so chose to alter it? Thankfully, the bridge is intact on the album, but what happens if it’s ever released as a single or video? Are they going to cut that out, too?
As subtle as all of this may be, the fact that it’s happening at all is somewhat disturbing. Such practices do nothing to assure those who are already against the idea of releasing Michael’s music posthumously on principle.
I am certainly not opposed to the new music being released, but I want to hear it exactly as Michael wrote it and sang it. Tweaking his lines, editing them out, or misprinting them in the liner note booklet (especially if done purposely to misrepresent) is not acceptable to me. I can understand when it’s done for consideration of length, such as when his songs must be abridged for things like the Cirque du Soleil shows or TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance. But even then, great care is usually taken that all of the song’s important elements are maintained; nothing that would actually alter the song’s integrity by changing its meaning.
Again, the omission of these lines in A Place With No Name makes no sense from an editing standpoint, and there seems to be no logical reason for it.
I love the video and have no complaints with it otherwise but as someone who has great respect for Michael’s art, this does trouble me a great deal and it bothers me that a lot of people will now only hear this “watered down” version of the song. Hopefully, the radio and single edits are indications that this omission only applies to the video but it is still kind of disappointing.
On a lighter note, there may indeed be some printing errors in the Xscape booklet. I am at least 100% certain that Michael is saying “She started likin’ me/kissing me and huggin me.” But the lyric printed in the booklet states: “She started lickin’ me.”
Lol. I think we can safely say that the reference to “huggin’ and kissin me” was as graphic as Michael intended to go. The rest was supposed to be left to our imagination!